Theological Interpretation (pt. 6)

This is the last, for now, in this series on principles of theological interpretation.

7. The Conversion (or Transformative) Principle
The last two principles assert that theological interpretation is more than the linguistic, historical, and even theological analysis of texts. Theological interpretation has a much more ambitious, constructive goal than simply analysis of the text; it is to form Christian disciples who can perform the Scriptures faithfully and creatively, and to inform the theological reflection of such disciples individually and ecclesially.

We may describe principle of theological interpretation in terms of its function: scriptural interpretation is the primary means by which God effects (in traditional Catholic terms) the church’s ongoing conversion, that is (in traditional Protestant terms), the church’s continuous reformation, or (in Orthodox language) the church’s increasing participation in the life of the Triune God—its divinization, or theosis. We may also describe this principle in terms of its telos: the ultimate goal of scriptural interpretation is for the individual and especially the community to “perform” the text, to become a living exegesis of the text. (Much more could be said about this.)

8. The Constructive Principle
Finally, in addition to the formation of Christian existence, part of the goal of theological interpretation is to contribute in a profound way to the church’s constructive task of articulating its convictions and practices faithfully and creatively in ever-changing contexts. Scripture, as the Catholic Church has said, is “the soul” of theology. This constructive process is a two-way street, with Christian theological claims and practices contributing to the task of biblical interpretation even as ecclesially based biblical interpretation seeks to permeate the church’s thinking and its public expressions of that thinking.

Ultimately, the constructive principle cannot be separated from the conversion principle, or from any of the other principles of theological interpretation, for the true goal of theological interpretation is the Spirit-inspired formation of communities that think and act like Christ (“the mind of Christ”) as they discern their role in what God is doing in the world in faithful and creative response to the divine address they encounter in the Scriptures.

That conclusion sets us up to consider a “missional hermeneutic,” about which I will post at a later date.

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